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What is fertility preservation?

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Fertility preservation is the process of saving or protecting eggs, sperm, or reproductive tissue so that a person can use them to have biological children in the future.

Who can benefit from fertility preservation?

People with certain diseases, disorders, and life events that affect fertility may benefit from fertility preservation1. These include people who:

  • Delay having children
  • Have been exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace or during military duty
  • Have endometriosis
  • Have uterine fibroids
  • Have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Have been treated for cancer
  • Have been treated for an autoimmune disease, such as lupus
  • Have a genetic disease that affects fertility

What fertility-preserving options are available?

A number of fertility-preserving options are available for men, women, and children2.

Fertility-preserving options for men include:

  • Sperm cryopreservation (pronounced krahy-oh-prez-er-VEY-shuhn). In this process, a man provides samples of his semen. The semen is then frozen and stored for future use in a process called cryopreservation.
  • Gonadal shielding. Radiation treatment for cancer and other conditions can harm fertility, especially if it is used in the pelvic area. Some radiation treatments use modern techniques to aim the rays on a very small area. The testicles can also be protected with a lead shield.

Fertility-preserving options for women include:

  • Embryo cryopreservation. This method, also called embryo freezing, is the most common and successful option for preserving a woman’s fertility. First, a health care provider removes eggs from a woman’s ovaries. The eggs are then fertilized with sperm from her partner or a donor in a lab in a process called in vitro fertilization. The resulting embryos are frozen and stored for future use.
  • Oocyte (pronounced OH-uh-sahyt) cryopreservation. This option is similar to embryo cryopreservation, except that unfertilized eggs are frozen and stored.
  • Gonadal shielding. This process is similar to gonadal shielding for men. Steps are taken, such as aiming rays at a small area or covering the pelvic area with a lead shield, to protect a woman’s ovaries.
  • Ovarian transposition. A health care provider performs a minor surgery to move the ovaries from the area that will receive radiation.

Some of these options, such as sperm, oocyte, and embryo cryopreservation, are available only to males and females who have gone through puberty and have mature sperm and eggs. However, gonadal shielding and ovarian transposition can be used for children who have not gone through puberty.

Talk to your doctor about the best fertility preservation option for you. Learn more about cancer and preserving fertility at the American Cancer Society’s Fertility and Cancer page (http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinwomen/index External Web Site Policy).


  1. Lamar, C. A., & DeCherney, A. H. (2009). Fertility preservation: state of the science and future research directions. Fertility and Sterility, 91(2), 316-319 [top]
  2. American Cancer Society. (2012). Fertility and cancer: What are my options? Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinwomen/index External Web Site Policy [top]

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Last Updated Date: 08/27/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 07/02/2013
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